My fellow Fox and Hounds blogger Brendan Huffman asks in a post today, “Why is Prop 13 off limits?” The simple answer: because it worked. Prop. 13 continues to make property taxes predictable for both homeowners and policymakers. (It also keeps people from being taxed out of their homes.)

Because many readers may be unfamiliar with California’s property tax system pre-Prop 13, allow me to offer a brief refresher. Better yet, here’s a description from Joel Fox.

“Prior to Proposition 13, the tax rate throughout California averaged a little less than 3% of market value, and there were no limits on increases either for the tax rate or property value assessments. Some properties were reassessed 50% to 100% in just one year and their owners’ tax bills jumped correspondingly.”

Prior to Proposition 13, property taxes were left up to the whims of county assessors and uncontrollable fluctuations in the housing market. Homeowners were left in the dark as to what this year’s tax burden would be. Families could not plan or budget properly. How can you make a family budget if there is a giant question mark for your property taxes?

Uncertainty and insecurity uniquely hurt seniors and people on fixed incomes, who cannot just get a second job to pay their property taxes. On paper, their home may be worth a million dollars, but that doesn’t mean they can use the money. Far too many of these homeowners were left with no choice but to sell their home. It’s unfair and unjust to raise taxes on people based on an asset that they cannot easily sell. Moreover, it’s wrong to tax something based upon its perceived value. Just because the County Assessor appraises your home at $500,000 doesn’t mean someone will pay that much to buy it.

Thanks to Prop. 13, people can properly budget for their property taxes. Homes are not small purchases. They are the single biggest investment of a person’s life. Prop. 13 allows a person to buy a home and know with absolute certainty what their maximum tax burden will be. Additionally, the tax rate is based on a real and tangible amount (what you yourself paid for the home), not a hypothetical assumption of its perceived value.

And what happens to people who buy at the peak of the real estate boom? Courtesy of Proposition 8 (a successor of Prop. 13), if your home declines in value, you won’t be stuck with the higher property tax bill. The County Assessor must send you the lower property tax bill.

This security and predictability also benefits local governments, who are now praising Prop. 13 for stabilizing their revenues during our current housing crisis. Remember, before Prop. 13, a housing downturn would have eviscerated local governments’ budgets. As the LA Times recently explained, county assessors have come around to Prop. 13.

“County assessors reported rising tax bases despite the housing slump, they credited the 30-year-old law — revealing its unexpected role as an economic stabilizer.

"The big factor is Prop. 13," said Los Angeles County Assessor Rick Auerbach, explaining his county’s 6.9% increase in the total property assessment roll.

Prop. 13 is the single most important taxpayer protection in California. Bar none. Speaker Karen Bass is right: Proposition 13 should be off limits.